Joseph Wilson’s ‘Fragments Between Us’, New Art Projects, East London, August 2022 – I haven’t quite worked out what was happening at New Art Projects last week? That opening down in the basement was stupidly hot in many more ways that just the obvious one during this damn heatwave and I must confess by the time I got there, I had already partaken of a number of cocktails and a slice or two of pizza over at the Miss Bugs opening, that and another couple of opening night private views or whatever you want to call them between the Miss Bugs show and this one (why are they called Private Views, they hardly ever are private and…). By the time I got to New Art Projects the place was like an oven, there were bodies all over the place, films were running, people were running, make up was running, photos sessions were happening in dark corners. “We had every London drag queen in the place at once” said a still recovering gallery curator when I dropped back in a couple of days later to try and see things in a different light.
It was almost an East London throwback, two packed galleries, people all over the street outside both of them, artists falling over each other, confused collectors, people pushing camera lens in your face both at Jealous over at Shoreditch for Miss Bugs and back here in Hackney for Joseph Wilson’s rather excellent ‘Fragments Between Us’. The normally well behaved formal white walls of the ever reliable New Art Project’s basement space were alive with who knows what. The rooms of the downstairs gallery had been completely transformed, film screams everywhere – hang on, film screams is a typo, it kind of fits though, film screens (not screams) everywhere, scream dreams in a 2HB kind of way, television screens, a Christmas tree (in August), and in the most powerful room of all, the wooden benches, familiar from so many primary schools or youth clubs of the 70’s and 80’s, benches there so you can sit (slightly uncomfortably) and watch the film. There’s an old school blackboard with the Prayer of Saint Francis scrawled on it, the text from which Margaret Thatcher quoted when she first arrived in Downing Street as the then new Prime Minister back in 1979. There’s a series of newspaper reports on Section 28 and such scattered over one of the walls, and come to think of it, that TV is the sort of thing your history teacher would have wheeled out during a slightly skewed O Level history lesson back in the days of Maggi Thatcher (school was horrible back then). Section 28 as you probably know, or maybe not? Section 28 was a poisonous slice added to the Local Government Act of the time, something introduced under Thatcher, it prohibited local authorities and schools here in the UK from “promoting homosexuality” or even talking about it in any kind of constructively helpful kind of way, it was a kick in the the teeth for any slightly confused kid or indeed teacher. Thatcher’s lot really were ‘orrible.
Actually, as fun as the opening night might have been, this is a wonderfully serious blurring of the lines, a blurring of the parts of the exhibition, the pieces, the whole. Everything here in the gallery exists in a space that blurs the boundaries, is it about the installation? about the moving image, the emotion of the (blurred) subject? Are we to sit on that chair and watch the film or walk around the chair treating it as an exhibition while we stroke our chins? There are elements of the films brought to life in the gallery, there are conversations that you the watcher are very much apart of, those words on the walls, on the boards, who sprayed the words? What is going on in the corner, is it part of a performance or should I politely look the other way? I’m still not quite sure where the lines were…
There’s a lot to take in, it is coming at you on all sides, from the dark corners, the ripped up carpet squares on the floors and watching films in an art gallery is strange at the best of times, I can happily stand for twenty minutes looking at a painting and think nothing of the act but sit me in front of a film and I’m starting to think why do I really need to be in a gallery to do this? But then the props, are they props? The props Joseph Wilson has not so much scattered as placed very carefully as to look scattered. I mean, what is going on? One of the three films, IL-Widna if I have it anywhere near correct from the pieces I’ve put together, tells of a group of queers on an island (forced on to an island?), while the film’s soundtrack firers excerpts from Margaret Thatcher and her going on in that way she did, moralising, dismissing anything or anyone she didn’t understand, talking about education, there she goes with her lecturing down about moral values. And yes, as you sit here or stand over there watching these films that are all running at the same time you can help but compare the punk rock edges and the defiance, the almost celebration to that of Derek Jarman, that same positive challenge, or maybe some of the recent things being said in that excellent Rebel Dykes documentary, but no, these are films, not documentation.
Actually when you come back and view all this without the opening night crowds, you feel the tension a lot more, the undercurrents, the questions asked, the power of the statements, is statements the right word? The defiance? There’s nothing that gentle here, none of this is that nice, not in the conventional sense of it. Down here in the basement by myself on a Wednesday afternoon is rather different to being down in the packed basement at the Thursday night opening, but then, come to think of it, did I speak to anyone down there then on the opening night? There was a lot of people just wondering around in the dark. Was that a cake? left out in rain? Or a make up table? Three different films, one of them on three big screens in one room. Bits of performance, bits of, well bits of what? Bits of something, bit that, despite it all, all the broken parts, bits of things that felt positive. Kind of fitting that it is down here in a basement, down in the darkness, down in the pits, the underground, down in the darkness where the typewriter clicks. Kind of need to do it all again, to go to the opening night again, to go sit there on a Wednesday afternoon when no one else is down there again. Powerful show, was it a show? Powerful exhibition, powerful event, strong, striking, vital, defiant. disarming maybe? Powerful set of statements. Do try to catch it, one of the art events of the year so far. (sw)
New Art Projects is at 6d Sheep Lane, Hackney, London, E8 4QS. Just by Broadway Market, not far from the Regents Canal and a stone’s throw from Beck Road and that Psychic TV door. Joseph Wilson’s ‘Fragments Between Us’ goes on until September 3rd.
As always, do click on an image to enlarge and see it properly or indeed t orun the freactured slide show.